How To Cut Out Sugar With An Action PlanSeptember 14, 2020
Cut Out Sugar!
Sugar is ubiquitous in the food supply. Sugar can be found in anything from condiments, to soups and stews, to the more obvious sweet treats and cereals lining the inner aisles of the grocery store. A little bit of sugar is likely not a problem as long as you feel that you are handling it well. However, what happens when it feels like you’re “addicted” to sugar and all you can think about is when you’re going to get your next “fix”? You'll find out how to cut out sugar and an action plan to help you to do it!
Studies show that excess sugar in the body can stimulate some of the same brain receptors as drugs and alcohol therefore truly making it feel addictive.
We also know that excess simple sugars are broken down more quickly by the body and therefore result in a quick rise, and then often a subsequent plummet, of blood sugar levels. This rapid fall of blood sugar is often when we start to get that “hangry” feeling. When blood sugar levels drop too low, our brain sends the message, “get me sugar, NOW,” which is often why it is so appealing to reach for that candy bar or bag of chips.
More than likely you don’t want to feel like you are controlled by sugar, so how do we successfully cut out sugar and get rid of the cravings?
4 Steps To Cut Out Sugar
START WITH THE MOST OBVIOUS SOURCES
Remove the candy bars, cookies, desserts, and sugar-sweetened beverages (including fruit juice) from your diet – and ideally your house, if you can. Then, check for other processed carbohydrates and snacks that may be sitting in your pantry. Be carb-smart with your food choices.
Cereals, granola or energy bars, and “fruit” snacks will all likely be a big source of sugar – even the seemingly “healthy” bran cereals still often come packaged with added sugars. Be sure to read the labels on everything in your house (and at the grocery store) – including condiments.
Some keywords to look for include: sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, molasses, powdered sugar, turbinado sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dextrose, maple syrup, malt, maltose, and sucrose to name a few.
FOCUS ON WHAT TO ADD TO YOUR DIET
Foods containing protein, fiber, and fat are often the most satiating and blood sugar stabilizing foods. When we remove the foods listed above, we need to make sure we are not replacing them with other foods that can still cause substantial increases to our blood sugar levels.
Unfortunately, some people find that replacing a sugar-loaded cereal with a piece of fruit for breakfast still drives sugar cravings because even though the fruit is a “healthier” option, it is still a source of sugar.
Does that mean we need to avoid fruit completely? Not necessarily. A whole piece of fruit still contains fiber, which does help to slow down digestion and release of sugar into the bloodstream, but you will see more blood sugar-stabilizing effects if you also include some protein and/or healthy fat with that piece of fruit.
- Protein foods include animal meat (chicken, beef, pork, lamb, bison, seafood, etc.); eggs; some dairy foods such as cheese, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt; and some plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy-based foods.
- Foods containing healthy sources of fat include nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, and cheese.
- Foods containing fiber include the plant-based sources of protein listed previously, whole fruits and vegetables, starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas; and whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa.
CONSIDER ARTIFICIAL SWEETNERS
Should we avoid them while we’re cutting out regular sugar? The answer in many cases is always, it depends. However, more research is indicating that even artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes can still affect blood sugar and insulin levels The effects of aspartame are being studied. The research is still mixed. Some studies even indicate artificial sweeteners can impact glucose metabolism via alterations in the gut microbiota.
Even though we may be cutting out regular sugar, if we are still consuming foods that mimic similar effects in the body, we may not be able to truly tame those sugar cravings. Therefore, it would be wise to also eliminate all artificial sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners when trying to cut out sugar and reduce sugar cravings.
What happens when you have cut out all the sugar but now you’re feeling worse? It could be due to a couple of things. Your body may have depleted its glycogen stores (the storage form of glucose/carbohydrate) and it is trying to convert protein to glucose, or is trying to use fat as an alternative fuel source.
These are both natural processes that can happen in the body, but if your body isn’t used to using these alternative sources of fuel, it can make you feel worse before feeling better.
Keep in mind, the process of using fat for energy, known as ketosis, is generally safe for most individuals. However, ketoacidosis is not safe and is most frequently seen in people with Type 1 diabetes when the body starts to use ketones for fuel, but also increases the acid levels in the blood (acidosis), and is often still accompanied by elevated glucose levels.
If you have diabetes, please be sure to follow up with your endocrinologist or primary care doctor for adjustments to medications if you are suddenly decreasing your carbohydrate or sugar intake.
Lack of Electrolytes
Another common reason you may feel worse is also due to a lack of, or imbalance of, electrolytes. When cutting out sugar, many people also naturally decrease their total carbohydrate intake and unintentionally start to follow a low carbohydrate diet. When doing so, that initial rapid weight loss many people observe is usually related to a loss of fluid. That fluid is also often accompanied by electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and chloride.
Therefore, when cutting out sugar and/or reducing carbohydrate intake, be sure that you are still including plenty of vegetables and some fruit in your diet to maintain appropriate potassium levels, and consider adding some salt to your foods. However, if you are very salt-sensitive, always check with your doctor first.
How long should one stick to this plan before seeing results? More than likely, you will see a reduction in sugar cravings within just 3-7 days.
However, it may take longer if you have been diagnosed with diabetes for many years because the body may not regulate blood sugar and insulin levels as easily as it once did. If you have diabetes, it is important to work with a health professional when making any major changes to your diet.
ABOUT THE AUTHORMichelle Bauche, MS, RDN, LD, CSOWM is a registered dietitian working for Missouri Bariatric Services at University of Missouri Healthcare in Columbia, Missouri. Michelle earned her Bachelor’s degree through the University of Missouri’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics and her Master’s degree through the University of Alabama. She is a certified specialist in Obesity and Weight Management and a member of the Weight Management Dietetic Practice Group through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.